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SECRETS OF THE ROM COM: SERIOUSLY

Romantic comedies that really work are not fluffy meaningless movies, argue Michael Hauge and Steve Kaplan, on the eve of their Australian seminar tour. A working idea of the building blocks and comedy essentials can help Australian writers compete with the best in the world – and make big hits. Andrew L. Urban reports.

He loves movies that appear to be light entertainment but are deep down meaningful explorations of the human condition, says Michael Hauge. He’s about to leave his Los Angeles office at the end of a work day Tuesday, as he plans his upcoming trip to Australia with his colleague Steve Kaplan, to workshop the ideas that make romantic comedies work successfully. And any writer can do it. “Absolutely … if you’re committed to it, you can write it.

“If you take the 20 most popular romcoms,” he says, “they will have at least 10 qualities in common, yet not any two will be identical.” This is in response to a question about ‘templating’ romcoms; is their seminar a cookie cutter plant? No, says Hauge, “I’ve never had a sense of creating a template that restricts individual writing. The characters, the situations, the plot … they are always different.”

"an exclusive weekend master class"

For the first time together in Australia, Michael Hauge and Steve Kaplan, two of Hollywood's most acclaimed scriptwriting instructors, will share the stage in presenting an exclusive weekend master class entitled 'The Art of Romantic Comedy'.

But this is no me-too double act where the two agree on everything. “We don’t see eye to eye on everything,” says Steve Kaplan. “Michael is an expert in film structure and how to put films together. My expertise is comedy and I don’t always agree with him.”

On the first day of the two day seminar, says Kaplan, “Michael talks about structure and the rules … then I come along and talk about comedy, and what works … and what things AREN’T funny and why.”

Kaplan says poor romcoms show “stupid people doing stupid things for no reason and then end up in bed. I focus on what it is inside a scene that helps it to be comedic – and what stops it.”

The workshops deal in generalities but also in specifics, with clips to illustrate. Writers enrolled can expect to see and dissect clips from films like 40 Year Old Virgin and The Wedding Crashers. “Michael tends to show clips from films that work …. I show clips where it doesn’t work, and then we deconstruct the scenes.” A new clip in Steve Kaplan’s presentation is from Dan in Real Life, “as an example of what not to write.”

Of the handful of films to win Oscars in all five major categories - actor, actress, director, picture and screenplay - the first to win all of the awards was Frank Capra’s 1934 romantic comedy It Happened One Night.

Since When Harry Met Sally was released in 1990, romantic comedies have consistently grossed over $100 million dollars every year. It’s a good example of film that is based on dramatic material. “The film begins with the funeral of his wife… this isn’t comedic,” says Hauge. He says writers attending these seminars will be able to take away the particular principles, the guidelines, that enable them to write a strong romcom.

"Romantic comedy can claim some of the most talented and original writers of our time"

“Far from being a lightweight genre that is quickly written, filmed and forgotten,” says Rashelle McHugh of Epiphany International, which is organising the seminars. “Romantic comedy can claim some of the most talented and original writers of our time, including Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, the Farrelly Brothers and Charlie Kaufman. The films these prodigious talents have produced within this genre have elevated expectations, and could even be considered cinema art. Romantic comedy is a genre much overlooked by screenwriters in Australia despite it being one of the best ways to advance your screenwriting career.

“The Australian classic Strictly Ballroom is one of the few local examples and it went on to achieve worldwide acclaim and an international audience. The masters of the genre can show how to write a fantastic romcom - and get it noticed by the people that matter.”

Recently Kaplan was sent a copy of the Australian comedy hit, The Castle. “I love The Castle,” he says, and you don’t need to know a thing about Australia to enjoy it. A comedy is as tied to emotional truth as any drama. The best comedies are deeply entrenched in emotional truth. Audiences must believe the reality of what’s on screen.”

"a good, fun experience"

Hague says he is expecting the seminars to be a good, fun experience and enable writers to decide “if romcom is what they want to write.” But nobody is saying it’s easy.

Published April 22, 2010
 

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Steve Kaplan


Michael Hauge

The Art of Romantic Comedy: Two Day Seminar
Sydney: June 19 & 20, 2010 Atrium Theatre, Australian Technology Park

Melbourne: June 26 & 27, 2010 Melbourne Conference & Exhibition Centre

For booking details please call 02 9572 7222 or visit the website







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